Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 22nd, 2011

The unconscious speaks

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I’ve been purging my ancient stocks of grain and the like— is a godsend—and when I encountered the two (!) 5-lb (!) bags of chana dal, which only a day or two before I had carefully resettled in a new location, I contemplated them with some focus: these were getting on in years; though it is highly nutritious, and high in protein, and with the lowest glycemic index on my list, I sort of wasn’t that interested in soaking and cooking it. (It is split dried baby chickpeas.) And yet I had sought it out especially for its nutritional value and glycemic index.

I identified an odd feeling that contemplating the bags aroused. It had a definite emotional component but is hard to describe: a hint of smug ownership, fascination with the—what? “goodness density” of the food, and a desire to keep it rather than eat it.

This time I had an out: I was not going to dump the food in the trash (as I did with the rancid whole grains), but put it in the Food Bank. I put it in the bag I was filling, and moved on to find other foods suitable to donate: a jar of cooking sauce, another jar, and then I saw a recent and unopened jar of peanut butter. Unopened, because I really never eat peanut butter. I was thinking about giving it away to the food bank, and lo! I felt that same little feeling I had with the chana dal. I knew I wasn’t interested in eating that, but the feeling was that this was good to have on hand. The same desire to keep rather than eat.

Now that I thought was interesting: an identifiable (to me: i would recognize this feeling) emotional signature associated with two different foods, similar in that they seemed to be good to own and to have. I started looking around, and I spotted several things that brought forth the same emotional signature: some sea vegetables, a jar of agave syrup, and a jar of nopalitos.

I noticed that all of these are foods to which my attention was first directed at a time when I was reading Elizabeth Hiser’s The Other Diabetes. I had only recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and it was a blow. I was determined to somehow get control of this, so I was hoovering up information like nobody’s business. So I had focused on these foods (and other foods of the type: nutrient-dense, low-glycemic) and somehow learned them with this little emotional tag—a tag that not only identified the “category” of the food but also acted to restrict my behavior with respect to the food: I could move it around, but I couldn’t throw it away.

As it turns out, that particular emotional signature (ES) is pretty easy for me to recognize, so I can “listen” or “watch” or—more neutrally—wait for it as I scan the foods I have. If I spot an old food that triggers this response, I know what to do: get rid of it. And I think the real value will be if I can use this response at the supermarket before I buy the food.

So I got to thinking about this and about how the emotions (anger, fear, disgust, and the more complex combinations, like my “permanent storage” tag on certain types of foods) seem less a reaction to what happens to us and more a way of directing our behavior. Anger triggers certain kinds of behavior, as does fear. Even my little ad hoc combination of emotions for the food-shaped items drove my behavior—and the complex of emotions that constituted the ES is like a “word” or a “sentence” in a language of emotion—that is, in which the “thoughts” are expressed in emotions rather than words..

So in this view, one’s emotions and feelings are simply the unconscious communicating to the conscious—and communicating directions and commands, controlling our behavior. And in fact we recognize it: “I thought about doing that, but it didn’t feel right.” or “This answer feels right. Let’s go with that.” and so on. Once you start to notice, you’ll find that our decision-oriented language is littered with emotion-related words. Why? Because emotions are how decisions are communicated from the unconscious to the conscious.

You expected maybe words? No, the unconscious had to work out its command-and-control mechanisms long before language came on the scene. This is a primitive arrangement, but it works quite well—otherwise we would not be here.

The way I visualize it: The unconscious evaluates the situation and comes to a decision. The decision is communicated directly to the conscious through the language of emotions, and the conscious self, knowing the goal, has a free rein on figuring out the best way to get there. What it lacks is freedom to choose the goal. Our choices are made by our unconscious.

You may protest that you made this or that major choice on strict criteria. Well, perhaps. But how did you decide which criteria were important to you? Didn’t you look at each potential criterion and see how you felt about it? Hmmm?

I think this holds together pretty well. And I’m looking for other emtoional signatures—odd little knots or clusters of emotion that seem to have a particular feeling when I consider some particular item or situation—and I’m finding a few. For example, I have a definite feeling when I think of attractive but unwise (for me) foods: ice cream, say, or some cake-and-whipped-cream confection.

Once you begin to be aware of the emotional direction you’re getting, it becomes easier to detect, and it turns out to be almost constant: we continually consult our feelings when thinking of what to do next: “What do I feel like doing? This….? No, that feels boring. That…? Yesh, I’m attracted to doing that.” It’s all feelings and emotions that steer the person like the driver of the car. Our conscious self plays the role of the headlights, watching what’s coming and figuring out reasons for what we find ourselves doing. A less mechanical analogy: the consciousness is in the howdah on the back of the (unconscious) elephant, which is going about its business and might in some cases pay attention to direction from the top.

UPDATE: As to whether it’s possible really for the unconscious to be actually in control, given all the stuff we do: take a look at the elephant, or at your pet cat. No consciousness there at all: for them, the “unconscious” is all that’s there. They manage lives that seem to reflect doing things on purpose, but it’s all done by what in us would be the unconscious self.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Lightest material known

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That’s a chunk of it, sitting atop the dandelion. More info here.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Technology

Two Views of Pepper-Spray, Abuse of Power, and the Militarization of the Police

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Very interesting post by James Fallows with contributions from two people, one of whom is a police officer.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Government, Law

“This guy robbed me” app: Quite useful

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Man, they have an app for everything now, including one for catching robbers.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Sentences that often precede bad events

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The most famous, of course, is “What could go wrong?” (Hint: Don’t ask a question to which you do not want the answer.) I was driving today and watching some other cars and thought of another: “Two can play at that game.”

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Daily life

Interesting WSJ column by Sarah Palin, supporting OWS

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Very interesting column with some good points. Recommended. Ms. Palin writes:

Mark Twain famously wrote, “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” Peter Schweizer’s new book, “Throw Them All Out,” reveals this permanent political class in all its arrogant glory. (Full disclosure: Mr. Schweizer is employed by my political action committee as a foreign-policy adviser.)

Mr. Schweizer answers the questions so many of us have asked. I addressed this in a speech in Iowa last Labor Day weekend. How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires? How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians’ stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers’? I answered the question in that speech: Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.

The money-making opportunities for politicians are myriad, and Mr. Schweizer details the most lucrative methods: accepting sweetheart gifts of IPO stock from companies seeking to influence legislation, practicing insider trading with nonpublic government information, earmarking projects that benefit personal real estate holdings, and even subtly extorting campaign donations through the threat of legislation unfavorable to an industry. The list goes on and on, and it’s sickening.

Astonishingly, none of this is technically illegal, at least not for Congress. Members of Congress exempt themselves from the laws they apply to the rest of us. That includes laws that protect whistleblowers (nothing prevents members of Congress from retaliating against staffers who shine light on corruption) and Freedom of Information Act requests (it’s easier to get classified documents from the CIA than from a congressional office).

The corruption isn’t confined to one political party or just a few bad apples. It’s an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle. It’s an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests. . .

Continue reading.

I should point out that Rep. Louise Slaughter has proposed legislation to stop the insider trading, but most Representatives in Congress lack a conscience and will undoubtedly kill it.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 1:17 pm

Memo reveals how seriously powerful interests take OWS

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Chris Hayes reports:

This morning, Up With Chris Hayes unveiled a major scoop: the show obtained a written pitch to the American Bankers Association from a prominent Washington lobbying firm, proposing a $850,000 smear campaign against Occupy Wall Street.

The memo, issued by Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford, described the danger presented by the burgeoning movement, saying that if Democrats embraced Occupy, “This would mean more than just short-term political discomfort for Wall Street.… It has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.” Furthermore, it notes that “the bigger concern…should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies.”

CLGC was pitching an $850,000 campaign of opposition research and targeted campaigns against politicians who supported the movement. It was written by two firm partners with close ties to House Speaker John Boehner: Sam Geduldig joined CLGC before Boehner became speaker, and Jay Cranford left Boehner’s office this year to join the firm. Another partner at CLGC is reportedly “tight” with the speaker.

The American Bankers’ Association acknowledged it received the memo, but that it decided not to act on it. Still, as Chris notes, it’s extremely unlikely this is the only time Wall Street and its allies in Washington considered serious and well-funded opposition to Occupy Wall Street; it’s just one memo that his show happened to obtain.

In fact, we’ve seen . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 12:56 pm

Looking at possible Federal role in OWS crackdown

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A Federal role would indicate that the government is moving in the direction of not tolerating dissent. Here’s the report by David Lindorff:

With Congress no longer performing its sworn role of defending the US Constitution, the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee and the Partnership for Civil Justice today filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) asking the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA and the National Parks Service to release “all their information on the planning of the coordinated law enforcement crackdown on Occupy protest encampments in multiple cities over the course of recent days and weeks.”

According to a statement by the NLG, each of the FOIA requests states, “This request specifically encompasses disclosure of any documents or information pertaining to federal coordination of, or advice or consultation regarding, the police response to the Occupy movement, protests or encampments.”

National Lawyers Guild leaders, including Executive Director Heidi Beghosian and NLG Mass Defense Committee co-chair and PCJ Executive Director Mara Veheyden-Hilliard both told TCBH! earlier this week that the rapid-fire assaults on occupation encampments in cities from Oakland to New York and Portland, Seattle and Atlanta, all within days of each other, the similar approach taken by police, which included overwhelming force in night-time attacks, mass arrests, use of such weaponry as pepper spray, sound cannons, tear gas, clubs and in some cases “non-lethal” projectiles like bean bags and rubber bullets, the removal and even arrest of reporters and camera-persons, and the justifications offered by municipal officials, who all cited “health” and “safety” concerns, all pointed to central direction and guidance.

As we reported, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan admitted publicly in an interview on a San Francisco radio program earlier this week that prior to her first order to police to clear Oscar Grant Plaza of occupiers on Oct. 25, she had participated in a “conference call” with 17 other urban mayors to discuss strategy for dealing with the movement. At the time of that call, her mayor’s office legal advisor, who subsequently resigned over the harsh police tactics used against demonstrators, says Quan was, significantly, in Washington, DC.

The NLG says the Occupy Movement, which is now in over 170 cities around the U.S., “has been confronted by a nearly simultaneous effort by local governments and local police agencies to evict and break up encampments in cities and towns throughout the country.”

Veheyden-Hilliard says, “The severe crackdown on the occupation movement appears to be part of a national strategy,” which she said is designed to “crush the movement,” an action she describes as “supremely political.”

She adds, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 12:53 pm

Police as storm troopers

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This latest wave of attacks on peaceful protests have shown how far our police forces have moved toward paramilitary attitudes in keeping with their high-tech paramilitary attire. James Fallows has a good post on the topic, including a revealing photo of the role of the police as the armed enforcer of big business: take a look at the logos on the police armored vehicle.

It’s a familiar role: the police were responsible for some of the worst crimes against strikers during the union movement, including the Haymarket massacre and the thuggish response in the Kohler strike. (For more on this, read Strike!, by Jeremy Brecher, a vivid and exciting history of the American labor movement. Link is to used editions costing $1.)

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 9:09 am

Posted in Books, Business, Government, Law

Do corporations have moral responsibilities?

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Corporations, as they themselves frequently observe, are legally “persons”: indeed, the Supreme Court used this argument in the Citizens United decision unleashing corporate spending to influence elections.

Okay, since they are persons, do they (like traditional persons) have moral responsibiities? They don’t act as though they do, but in that case they should not receive personhood status, it seems to me.

The argument that corporations have no moral or social responsibilities at all—their only responsibility is to maximize profits—was most strongly supported by Milton Friedman:

In “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” originally published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in 1970, Friedman, the arch-deacon of free market economics, declared that any businessman who thinks a corporation should take “seriously its responsibilities for providing em­ployment, eliminating discrimination, avoid­ing pollution and whatever else” was “preach­ing pure and unadulterated socialism.”

Busi­nessmen who talk this way are unwitting pup­pets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades … In a free-enterprise, private-property sys­tem, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business. He has direct re­sponsibility to his employers. That responsi­bility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while con­forming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.

The passage quoted is from this Salon column by Andrew Leonard, written to introduce a series on examining the behavior and obligations of these (corporate) persons. Should be interesting.

My own view is that, if corporations are citizens, then corporations can go to jail for lawbreakiing—and this would mean the president and the board of directors would serve prison terms if the corporation is found guilty of crimes. That would, I think, ensure much more careful behavior from corporations. Of course, the president and board of directors would “accept responsibility” but they (like Chacellor Katehi) would want “to move on, and put the past behind us”—i.e., they will seek responsibility without accountability, much as Obama granted to the the torturers in the US government.

UPDATE: Two relevant posts just this morning—there are thousands more.

Companies Lay Off Workers While Spending Billions On Share Buybacks To Enrich Executives

Health Executives Receive Only Nine Months In Prison For Killing Three People

The second story is particularly interesting. It’s unusual, I think, for a serial killer with three victims to be sentenced to less than a year.

UPDATE 2: Note this report from Associated Press:

The U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday that drug maker Merck will pay $950 million to resolve investigations into its marketing of the painkiller Vioxx.

The agency said Merck will pay $321.6 million in criminal fines and $628.4 million as a civil settlement agreement. It will also plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge that it marketed Vioxx as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis before getting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Merck stopped selling Vioxx in 2004 after evidence showed the drug doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke. In 2007, the company paid $4.85 billion to settle around 50,000 Vioxx-related lawsuits. . .

Continue reading. Note that despite the “criminal” penalty, no one went to prison: we don’t do that to powerful executives, generally speaking, even for this sort of criminal behavior. Indeed, it’s not even clear that any executive lost his or her job over this, though I suppose bonuses might have taken a hit.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 8:47 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

New form of NIMBY: Cut others’ healthcare costs, not mine

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Joe Nocera has an interesting column in the NY Times this morning:

In 1998, The New York Times published a front-page article suggesting that two new drugs, angiostatin and endostatin, might finally win the war on cancer.

Though not yet tested in humans, the drugs had “eradicated” cancer in mice, the article said; and while some researchers were cautious, others could barely contain themselves. Dr. Richard Klausner, then the director of the National Cancer Institute called the drugs “the single most exciting thing on the horizon.”

In the subsequent 13 years, oncologists have come to the sobering realization these new drugs are not the holy grail after all. Usually used in conjunction with chemotherapy, they extend life and suppress tumor growth — but only by months, not years. Sometimes they do less than that — with serious side effects. As a breast cancer therapy, alas, the angiostatin Avastin falls in the latter category.

This is not to say that Avastin doesn’t help cancer patients. For lung cancer patients, Avastin plus chemotherapy extends life by an average of two months longer than chemotherapy alone. For renal cancer patients, Avastin gives the average patient an additional 4.8 months of what’s called “progression-free survival” — meaning that the tumors don’t grow and the cancer doesn’t spread for that amount of time.

But for breast cancer patients, Avastin neither suppresses tumor growth to any significant degree nor extends life. Although a 2007 study showed Avastin adding 5.5 months to progression-free survival, subsequent studies have failed to replicate that result.

As a result of that first, optimistic study, the Food and Drug Administration gave the drug “accelerated approval,” meaning it could be marketed as a breast cancer therapy while further studies were conducted. Those follow-up studies are what caused a panel of F.D.A. experts to then withdraw that approval. That decision, you may recall, was made this summer, after a heated two-day meeting that included pleas from breast cancer victims and enormous pushback from Genentech, which markets the drug and reaps around $7 billion in annual Avastin sales. After weighing the evidence, the F.D.A. panel voted 6 to 0 against Avastin.

After Genentech appealed, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner, affirmed the decision on Friday in a ruling that would seem, on its face, unassailable. She essentially said that F.D.A. decisions had to be driven by science, and the science wasn’t there to support Genentech’s desire to market Avastin as a breast cancer drug.

Yet there was an immediate outcry. Some breast cancer patients, convinced that the drug was helping them stay alive, condemned the ruling. That’s certainly understandable. Less understandable was the reaction from conservatives, who cast the F.D.A. decision as an example of the nanny state making decisions that more properly belonged to doctors and their patients. The Wall Street Journal editorial page called Dr. Hamburg’s decision a “blunt assertion of regulatory power” and described Avastin as “potentially life-saving,” which it most certainly is not.

The strangest reaction, though, has come from the nation’s health insurers and the administrators of Medicare. Despite the clear evidence of Avastin’s lack of efficacy in treating breast cancer, they have mostly agreed to continue paying whenever doctors prescribe it “off label” for breast cancer patients. Avastin, by the way, costs nearly $90,000 a year.

The reason they are doing so is obvious: . . .

Continue reading.The column ends:

Conservatives, in particular, insist that Medicare must be reformed. Here is an enormously expensive drug that largely doesn’t work, has serious side effects and can no longer be marketed as a breast cancer therapy. Yet insurers, including Medicare, will continue to cover it.

If we’re not willing to say no to a drug like Avastin, then what drug will we say no to?

He asks a good question: Conservatives are eager to cut government spending, it seems, except for that spending that goes to them personally. “I want mine, to hell with everyone else”: the Conservative marching song.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 8:30 am

Rose shave

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I am indebted to NoHelmet on Wicked_Edge for the theme: Rose shaving soap with a Lady Gillette razor.

I decided to go with one of my badger+horsehair brushes: great little guys. The Geo. F. Trumper Rose shaving soap (please note: lid is right-side up) has a light fragrance and makes a terrific lather: a thick, creamy concoction that hugged my beard.

Three smooth passes with the LG razor loaded with a previously used Swedish Gillette blade. Though clearly based on the Super Speed head, this razor seems more assertive to me and had no problem delivering a first class shave.

The alum block, a final rinse and dry, and a splash of Geo. F. Trumper Coral Skin Food, whose fragrance is rose.

Extremely nice shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 8:17 am

Posted in Shaving


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